Equality-based school provider, Educate Together, has welcomed the findings of a new study into demand for multi-denominational schools in Ireland.
The survey, which shows that more than three in five adults (61%) show a preference for multi-denominational schools, confirms strong demand for change in the Irish education system.
These findings reflect Educate Together’s experience of growing demand for school choice across Ireland. As the leader in the provision of equality-based education for more than 40 years, Educate Together has seen demand for its schools skyrocket, with the organisation having opened more than 50 schools in the past 10 years. Despite this growth and the high levels of demand, there are still four whole counties in Ireland with no multi-denominational primary school option. Once opened, most Educate Together schools quickly become oversubscribed, meaning that even where this option exists, growing demand for equality-based education is not being fully met.
Commenting on the findings published today, Educate Together CEO Dr Emer Nowlan said:
“This survey confirms our experience on the ground – demand for Educate Together schools has been steadily increasing, with parents in every part of the country now seeking a modern alternative to religiously-managed schools. It is time the government took real action on this issue – instead of empty targets and half-hearted requests, we need leadership, a clear strategy and funded plan to support the change that families want.”
The State has a target of 400 multi-denominational primary schools by 2030, but there is currently no clear strategy, interim targets or plan to achieve this, and no designated funding. Educate Together is calling for immediate progress in three key areas:
1. Hold the promised Citizens’ Assembly on Education and address school patronage
Educate Together urges the Government to fulfil its commitment to hold a Citizens’ Assembly on the Future of Education as soon as is practicable. There is strong broad support for the idea of increased choice in education, but no consensus on how to proceed. A Citizens’ Assembly is the ideal forum to build momentum for real change. It is vital that this forum is held, and that it provides the basis for specific steps to increase the number of equality-based and multi-denominational schools across Ireland as a matter of urgency.
2. Enable new schools to be opened in line with parental demand
Before 2009, if sufficient demand was identified for an Educate Together school in an area, an application could be made for recognition of a new school. Schools were opened in urban centres around the country – places like Letterkenny, Mullingar, Tullamore and Waterford. These schools are now making a positive contribution to their communities and providing choice for families. In contrast, in 2023 there are growing numbers of families in communities around the country who have no way to make their preference for an Educate Together school known.
3. Review and reform the school reconfiguration programme
Improvements are necessary in the Department of Education’s school reconfiguration programme:
a. The process of selection of areas or schools for transfer should be transparent and based on clear criteria, such as objectively measured levels of demand. An annual survey carried out by an impartial state agency would enable the government to plan provision accordingly. The anonymised publication of these data would also help prevent divisions within communities when the question of reconfiguring provision arises.
b. All parents and the wider community (including pre-school parents, as well as parents of primary-age children who currently travel outside the area to access equality-based or multi-denominational education) should have a role in deciding what type of schools their community will offer.
c. As the largest and most popular provider of equality-based primary schools, Educate Together should be visible, and able to engage with parents, school staff and boards of management from the outset, so that schools can gain a clear picture of what change will look like.
d. Annual ring-fenced funding needs to be put in place so that schools can be properly supported through a process of change.
Educate Together is calling for immediate and decisive action to meet the growing demand for equality-based education in Ireland.